Viking longships have captured the imagination of people worldwide for centuries. These amazing vessels played a crucial role in the lives of the Vikings, enabling them to travel, trade, and conquer new lands. In this article, we will explore 20 fascinating facts about Viking longships that will give you a better understanding of these impressive vessels. So, let’s set sail on a voyage of discovery!
Here are 18 Amazing Facts About Viking Longships
1. Designed for speed and agility
Viking longships were built to be fast, agile, and lightweight. This allowed them to swiftly navigate the open seas as well as the shallow rivers of Northern Europe. The sleek and shallow design of these ships enabled them to travel at impressive speeds, reaching up to 15 knots (17 mph or 28 km/h) with favorable wind conditions.
2. Symmetrical shape for easy manoeuvring
The symmetrical shape of the Viking longships was not only visually striking but also highly practical. That’s why we have included it in our list of most amazing facts about Viking Longships.
The identical bow and stern design allowed the ship to reverse direction with minimal effort, as the ship could be rowed in either direction without turning around.
This was particularly useful when navigating narrow rivers, fjords, or retreating from battle. Additionally, the symmetrical design provided better stability and balance while at sea, ensuring a smoother and safer journey for the crew and any cargo onboard.
3. Constructed with a clinker-built technique
Vikings used a unique technique called “clinker-built” to construct their longships. This involved overlapping planks of wood (usually oak) and fastening them together with iron rivets.
By using this technique the shipwrights created a strong, watertight hull with a degree of flexibility that allowed the ship to bend and twist with the waves, rather than resisting them.
This construction method not only provided greater durability but also contributed to the longship’s impressive speed and agility, as the overlapping planks created a streamlined surface that reduced water resistance.
4. Sails and oars for propulsion
One of the most intriguing facts about Viking Longships is that they were powered by both sails and oars. When the wind was favorable, the Vikings would hoist their large, square-shaped sails made of wool or linen, allowing them to travel vast distances with ease. In the absence of wind or when navigating tight spaces, the crew would row using large wooden oars.
5. Distinctive dragonhead figureheads
The dragonhead figureheads that adorned many Viking longships were more than just decorative elements; they held significant symbolic value in Viking culture. The dragonheads were believed to have protective powers, guarding the ship and its crew against evil spirits, sea monsters, and other supernatural forces.
Moreover, these intimidating figureheads served a psychological purpose during raids, as they were meant to strike fear into the hearts of enemies and local populations. When returning home or entering friendly waters, the Vikings would often remove the dragonhead to avoid scaring away the protective spirits of their own lands.
6. Ships were named after gods and mythical creatures
Viking longships were often named after gods or mythical creatures from Norse mythology. This is one of the most amazing facts about Viking Longships. The tradition of naming ships was rooted in the idea of seeking protection and favor from the gods, as well as invoking fear in their enemies.
For example, some longships were named after the powerful Norse gods like “Thor’s Hammer” (Mjölnir), “Odin’s Fury,” or “Freyja’s Blessing,” which were believed to bring the strength, wisdom, or fortune of these deities to the ship and its crew. By naming their vessels after gods, the Vikings sought to align themselves with these divine powers, hoping to gain an advantage in battle or during their journeys.
Other longships were named after fearsome mythical creatures like dragons, sea serpents, or wolves, such as “Dragon’s Breath,” “Sea Serpent’s Bite,” or “Fenrir’s Howl.” These names were intended to evoke a sense of dread and terror in their enemies, while also symbolizing the strength and ferocity of the ship and its crew.
7. Crew size varied greatly
The size of a Viking longship’s crew largely depended on the size of the vessel itself. Smaller longships, like the karves, could carry a crew of around 20 to 30 warriors, while larger longships, such as the drakkars and skeids, could hold up to 100 or more. The crew typically consisted of skilled sailors, rowers, and warriors who would work together to navigate, maintain, and defend the ship during its voyages.
8. Multi-purpose vessels
Viking longships were truly versatile vessels, capable of serving various purposes depending on the needs of their owners and crew. Their primary use was for raiding, with their speed and agility allowing the Vikings to swiftly attack coastal settlements before disappearing back into the open sea.
Longships were also used for trading, transporting goods like timber, furs, precious metals, and even animals like horses across long distances. The shallow draft of the longships enabled them to navigate up rivers and access inland trade centers that would be unreachable for larger, deeper-hulled ships.
Additionally, Viking longships were employed for exploration, as they could cover vast distances and withstand the harsh conditions of the open ocean. The most famous examples of this are the journeys of Leif Erikson and other Vikings who ventured across the Atlantic to discover and settle in North America.
9. Seating arrangement
The seating arrangement on a Viking longship was designed to maximize space and efficiency. The rowers sat on wooden chests, which were placed along the sides of the ship, in line with the oar holes.
These chests, known as “sea chests,” served multiple purposes: they provided seating for the rowers, storage for personal belongings and supplies, and added structural support to the ship’s hull. This clever use of space allowed the crew to make the most of the limited room onboard, ensuring a more comfortable and efficient journey.
Additionally, the presence of these chests made it easier for the crew to switch between rowing and sailing, as they could quickly stow their oars and sit down to rest or eat while the ship was under sail.
10. Built using minimal tools
Despite the intricate designs and sophisticated construction techniques of Viking longships, they were built using a relatively small set of simple tools.
These tools included axes for felling trees and shaping timber, adzes for smoothing the wooden planks, and augers for drilling holes to attach the planks with iron rivets.
Additionally, they used measuring tools, like divider compasses, to ensure the accuracy and symmetry of the ship’s design. The fact that skilled shipwrights could create such impressive vessels with these basic tools is a testament to their ingenuity and craftsmanship.
11. Important social status symbol
In Viking society, owning a longship was a clear indication of wealth, power, and social standing. Longships were expensive to build and maintain, requiring significant resources, such as skilled labor, quality timber, and iron for the rivets.
As a result, only the most affluent and influential individuals, like chieftains or kings, could afford to own multiple longships. Owning a well-crafted and impressive longship not only showcased an individual’s material wealth but also demonstrated their ability to command a large crew, which further solidified their social status.
Additionally, the size and decoration of a longship could further distinguish the owner’s rank, with more ornate and larger ships typically belonging to those of higher status.
12. Length varied according to purpose
The length of a Viking longship varied according to its purpose and the resources available to the builder. Smaller longships, known as “karves,” could be around 50 feet (15 meters) long, while larger longships, called “skeids” or “drakkars,” could reach up to 120 feet (36 meters) in length. The size of the longship greatly influenced its speed, cargo capacity, and the number of crew members it could carry.
13. The Gokstad Ship: A well-preserved example
The Gokstad Ship, discovered in a burial mound near Sandefjord, Norway, in 1880, is an incredible example of a well-preserved Viking longship. Dating back to around 890 AD, the Gokstad Ship provides invaluable information about the design, craftsmanship, and construction techniques used by Viking shipwrights.
The ship is approximately 76 feet (23 meters) long and 17 feet (5 meters) wide, with a high prow and stern, showcasing the classic Viking longship design. The vessel was capable of carrying a crew of 70 and is believed to have been a fast and agile warship.
Today, the Gokstad Ship is housed in the Viking Ship Museum in Oslo, Norway, where it serves as a testament to the skill and ingenuity of the Vikings.
14. The Oseberg Ship: A ship fit for royalty
The Oseberg Ship, discovered in a burial mound at the Oseberg farm near Tønsberg in Vestfold, Norway, in 1904, is another exceptional example of a Viking longship. Dating back to around 820 AD, the Oseberg Ship is believed to have been a ceremonial vessel used by high-ranking individuals or royalty.
The ship is about 70 feet (21 meters) long and 16 feet (5 meters) wide, with a beautifully carved prow and stern. What makes this ship stand out is its intricate carvings and decorations, including intricate animal and knotwork designs. These decorations are a prime example of the “Oseberg style” of Viking art, characterized by its elaborate, interlacing patterns and animal motifs.
The Oseberg Ship is now on display at the Viking Ship Museum in Oslo, Norway, where it continues to captivate visitors with its stunning design and rich history.
15. Longships in Viking funeral rituals
Viking longships played a significant role in funeral rituals, particularly for high-ranking individuals or warriors. When someone of importance died, they would often be buried in a longship, surrounded by their personal belongings, weapons, and sometimes even their horses or other animals. This is one of the most fascinating facts about Viking Longships.
The ship would then be buried in a mound of earth, with the deceased and their possessions enclosed within. This elaborate burial practice was believed to ensure that the deceased would have everything they needed for their journey to the afterlife, reflecting the central role that longships played in the lives of the Vikings.
Some of the most well-known examples of ship burials include the Oseberg and Gokstad ships, which were discovered in Norway and provide invaluable insights into Viking burial practices and beliefs.
16. Roskilde 6: The longest Viking longship ever discovered
The Roskilde 6, uncovered during an excavation in Roskilde, Denmark, in 1997, holds the title of the longest Viking longship ever found. Measuring an astonishing 122 feet (37 meters) in length, the ship dates back to the 11th century and provides a unique insight into the capabilities and scale of Viking shipbuilding.
Due to its size and the presence of a substantial number of oar holes, it is believed that the Roskilde 6 was a warship used by the Danish king’s fleet, capable of carrying around 100 warriors.
The ship’s remains are now displayed in the Viking Ship Museum in Roskilde, where visitors can marvel at its impressive scale and learn more about the history of these legendary vessels.
17. Longships in Viking mythology
Viking longships also featured prominently in Norse mythology. One such example is the mythological ship Naglfar, which is said to be constructed from the nails of the dead.
According to Norse legends, Naglfar will sail during the cataclysmic event known as Ragnarok, carrying an army of giants and the dead to do battle with the gods.
This myth highlights the significant role that longships played in the Viking worldview, as they were not only essential for their daily lives but also deeply intertwined with their beliefs about the cosmos and the afterlife.
18. Shipbuilding as a specialized skill
One of the most fascinating facts about Viking Longships is that shipbuilding was considered a highly regarded and specialized skill in Viking society, with skilled shipwrights being held in high esteem. These craftsmen were responsible for designing, constructing, and repairing longships, making them an integral part of the Viking way of life.
The art of shipbuilding was typically passed down from generation to generation within families or communities, ensuring that the knowledge and expertise required to create these impressive vessels were preserved and developed over time.
Viking shipwrights were not only responsible for building longships for warfare, trading, and exploration but also for constructing other types of vessels, such as cargo ships and fishing boats, which were essential to the Viking economy and daily life.
The Viking longship has left a lasting legacy and continues to influence modern shipbuilding. The clinker-built technique used in constructing longships is still employed in building traditional wooden boats today.
Additionally, the longship’s sleek and agile design has inspired many modern shipbuilders, making the Viking longship a symbol of maritime innovation and prowess.
Viking longships were remarkable vessels that played a crucial role in shaping the lives and culture of the Vikings. These fascinating facts offer a glimpse into the world of these intrepid seafarers and their legendary ships.
From their incredible speed and agility to their versatile uses and rich cultural significance, Viking longships remain a captivating and enduring part of maritime history.
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